Return to Himachal: Part One

So finally, after more than ten days have passed by since our return from the unforgettable rendezvous with the Himalyas, I have found enough space and motivation to start writing about those few lovely days. Let me begin by saying that the trip was an experience which always stayed far above our expectations, and my only regret from it was that I could not go to Chandratal, the beautiful lake ensconced in the incredible terrain of Lahaul Spiti. The reason was that we had reached Manali at a time when the roads to reach higher were beginning to close down, and we ourselves barely managed to make our trip to Keylong without being snowed in – but more on that later.

As usual, the trip began in Delhi, where we caught up with a couple of college friends, before boarding the HRTC Volvo bus which would take us to Manali. The bus journey was fairly comfortable, except for a terrible movie playing on the screen (Of course, the video coach is almost exclusively a headache, I have never found the driver’s choice of movie even remotely entertaining) . At around 11 pm, we stopped at a highway dhaba in Karnal – and the soft chill of the air already heightened our sense of vacation. It is hard for people from North India to not resent staying in the Southern and coastal parts of the country in November, as the edgy bliss of winter is always sorely missed.

The log hutsWe reached Manali at 11 in the morning – and once again the sight of somewhat rugged, somewhat dusty and a little snowy Himalyas welcomed us. Once we reached the log-huts that were going to be our home for the next few days, we were absolutely delighted by the warm and homely sight of them. It was a beautiful home, plush with 2 bedrooms, a hall, a kitchen, a garden looking out to the hills and the valley and our own garden swing and bonfire place! We were thrilled, and made sure through our stay that no advantage offered to us went unutilized.

The log-hut area is about two km away from the main market and Mall area of Manali. Though it has considerable hotels now, most of them are in the format of tranquil cottages, so the area is by and large peaceful without being cut-off.

After a leisurely bath, breakfast and a sumptuous lunch, we went to take a walk around. Very close to the log huts is the famous Hadimba temple (Of Roja fame as I was told), which is a slightly unconventional temple with an unconventional design. Though I am not much into sight-seeing, I was a little intrigued by the design as well as the blatant blood marks on the floor of the temple, obviously hinting at the sacrificial practices, which surprisingly still seem to be taking place.

We roamed around a bit, and went to one of the many ‘Van Vihaar’s’ of Manali – which are nothing but a forest of conifers, nice to take a walk in and enjoy the delightful weather. We also went to the banks of river Beas, though up there, the river merely seems like a stream of cold blue water running in between the brown of the hills.

In the night we had a wild bonfire in our garden – a heady mixture of wine and the joyous feeling, but I sensibly will refrain from saying anything further on the subject.

SolangThe next day we hired a taxi to go to Solang and the village of Kothi, though we eventually liked Solang so much that we ended up staying there till quite late. Solang is a very beautiful valley, located only 16 km from Manali. The drive to the place, like most Himalyan drives, is beautiful. The snow peaks, which looked far until now, suddenly seemed very close and prominent, and a green valley against that backdrop of a brownish white and a clear blue sky seemed extremely picturesque. It is indeed that photo I grew up seeing on the travel special issues of many magazines, suddenly spanned out live before me. I don’t think I could do any justice to the real image either in the picture I took of it or the words I write here.

In Solang, my friends decided to do para-gliding, and while they were at it, I enjoyed a tranquil book reading session, nestled on a small rock. I suppose I can never thank my brother enough for the ipod and the camera that he has given me, which are the absolute delights in such surroundings.

After the flying session we enjoyed a hot plate of maggi in the small shops around. It is surprising how far and deep Maggi goes in this area, for you can find it in almost all remote parts of Himachal and beyond. Nothing like a plate of Maggi to make any Indian feel at home anywhere.

Just adjoining to the valley of Solang, there is a winding road which is closed for commercial and passenger vehicles. Next day we were informed that further down the road, a tunnel was being built, which would reduce the travel time between Manali and Sissu (a village in Spiti region) to almost 1-2 hours (the current route takes about 5 hours). This shortcut will reduce the distance between Leh and Manali, though I really think that most road travelers would still prefer the long tortuous route to enjoy the rugged, angry terrain and its peculiarities. Anyways, the tunnel itself will take another 8-10 years to complete (!!)

The walk on this winding road is beautiful, for you can look at the mountains all around, and on the right, you can see the Beas flowing through a sleepy village/camp. You can also see some pretty fall colors, though by November perhaps most of the leaves are already fallen.

We returned back and stopped at the mall. Like all the mall roads of the all the hill stations, this is the least attractive part of the place, and yet I would say compared to the malls of Mussorie and Simla, this was far less crowded or repulsive. We had our dinner at a small place offering Oriental cuisine and though the food was good, the place did not leave much of an impression. (Which is why I cannot recollect the name at all despite an honest attempt!)

To close the day, we hired a taxi to take us to Keylong the next day, and then excitedly went off to sleep after another bonfire, this time doing a small barbeque.


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